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747 Commercial Transport

747 commercial transportDuring the late 1960s, some 50,000 Boeing people belonged to a group called "The Incredibles." These were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747 -- the largest civilian airplane in the world -- in less than 16 months.

The incentive for creating the giant 747 came from reductions in air fares, a surge in air-passenger traffic and increasingly crowded skies. Following the loss of the competition for the gigantic military transport, the C-5A, Boeing set out to develop a large advanced commercial airplane to take advantage of the high bypass engine technology developed for the C-5A. The design philosophy behind the 747 was to develop a completely new plane, and other than the engines, the designers purposefully avoided using any hardware developed for the C-5.

The 747's final design was offered in three configurations: all passenger, all cargo and a convertible passenger/freighter model. The freighter and convertible models loaded 8- by 8-foot cargo containers through the huge hinged nose.

The 747 was truly monumental in size. The massive airplane required construction of the 200-million-cubic-foot 747 assembly plant in Everett, Wash., the world's largest building (by volume). The fuselage of the original 747 was 225 feet long; the tail as tall as a six-story building. Pressurized, it carried a ton of air. The cargo hold had room for 3,400 pieces of baggage and could be unloaded in seven minutes. The total wing area was larger than a basketball court. Yet, the entire global navigation system weighed less than a modern laptop computer.

Pilots prepared for the 747 at Boeing training school. The experience of taxiing such a large plane was acquired in a contraption called "Waddell's Wagon," named after Jack Waddell, the company's chief test pilot. The pilot sat in a mockup of the 747 flight deck built atop three-story-high stilts on a moving truck. The pilot learned how to maneuver from such a height by directing the truck driver below him by radio.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration later modified two 747-100s into Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The next version, the 747-200, holds approximately 440 passengers and has a range of about 5,600 nautical miles. In 1990, two 747-200Bs were modified to serve as Air Force One and replaced the VC-137s (707s) that served as the presidential airplane for nearly 30 years.

The 747-300 has an extended upper deck and carries even more passengers than the -200. The 747-400 rolled out in 1988. Its wingspan is 212 feet, and it has 6-foot-high "winglets" on the wing tips. The 747-400 also is produced as a freighter, as a combination freighter and passenger model, and as a special domestic version, without the winglets, for shorter-range flights.

The longer-range 747-400 airplanes (also known as 747-400ERs), were launched in late 2000. The 747-400ER, which first flew July 31, 2002, is available in both passenger and freighter versions and has a range of 8,826 miles. It incorporates the strengthened -400 Freighter wing, strengthened body and landing gear, and an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward cargo-hold, with an option for a second tank. When the 747-400ER's full-range capability is not needed, operators can remove the tank (or tanks), freeing up additional space for cargo.

747 home page

First flight: Feb. 9, 1969
Model number: 747-100/-200
Classification: Commercial transport
Span: 195 feet 8 inches
Length: 231 feet 4 inches
Gross weight: 735,000 pounds
Cruising speed: 640 mph
Range: 6,000 miles
Ceiling: 45,000 feet
Power: Four 43,000-pound-thrust P&W JT9D-3 engines
Accommodation: 33 attendants, 374 to 490 passengers